The Benefits of Deprivation: 10 Days Without Air Conditioning and Counting! Plus Tips for Staying Cool

When our A/C went out two Sundays ago, my first reaction was panic. We live in the desert where we have been experiencing triple digit temperatures and we have esteemed air conditioning as one of the dire necessities of life. So when our central air went out last weekend, my first thought was that we had to call the repair people first thing Monday morning and get it fixed ASAP to avoid extreme suffering.

By Sunday night, however, I began singing a different tune. Yes, it was hotter than h*** as we had a high of 104 that day and sweated a lot more than we would have liked. But the point was that we had survived it, and without any real harm to ourselves except for discomfort. I started fantasizing of the money that could be saved by going the rest of the summer without it.

I’ve also been thinking of how often we forget what we really could live without. We grew up in Hawaii where the average middle-class home doesn’t have air conditioning and many don’t even have insulation. I have memories of hot, humid summers when the entire house was unbearably hot and sweating was a normal part of life. In the winters (and trust me, it does get cold there) I would go to bed wearing at least 2 layers (one of which was sweatshirt and sweatpants), socks and occasionally a cap, under 3 layers of blankets.

But since moving to California in 2003, A/C has become a regular and expected part of life, and we got so used to the luxury that we would turn it on as soon as we felt hot. Of course, being the tropical beasts that we are, 82°-83° keep us sufficiently cool and happy.

So, while it has still been hot (we’ve still had highs in the 100°s), it has been begun getting a little cooler, so we have decided to postpone the A/C repair in the interest of saving and as a matter of discipline. We consider ourselves lucky that our A/C graciously waited until the latter part of summer to go on vacation.

Over this past week, we have learned a few things about how to keep cool without the A/C, but most importantly, that we have been overusing it by not taking advantage of cooler nighttime temperatures. In the past couple of months, we have sometimes kept the A/C on auto 24/7. Even though we set the thermostat around 82°-83°, the A/C still came on at night when outside temperatures were lower because the house was hot from being closed up. So here are a few tips for lowering and saving money on air conditioning use.

Tips for Going Without and/or Saving on Air Conditioning

  • Turn on fans to keep the air circulating.
  • Set ceiling fans to turn clockwise (counter-clockwise looking toward it).
  • Keep curtains or blinds closed during the day.
  • Use light colored curtains to deflect heat.
  • Keep windows and doors closed tightly to keep the house cool.
  • If there is a breeze or if outside air feels cooler than inside, open the window bringing in the cooler.
  • Keep sunny windows closed if there is no breeze.
  • In late afternoon, as soon as outside temperatures feel lower than inside temperatures, open all windows and doors.
  • In the evening, when it’s cool outdoors but still hot indoors, place fans in front of open windows to draw in the cool air.
  • Keep as many windows as possible open during night to take advantage of the cool night air to lower inside temperatures.
  • In the morning, close windows as soon as the outside air begins feeling warmer than inside air.
  • Limit strenuous physical activity until evening.
  • Drink lots of cold water.
  • When hot, use a water spritzer to spray yourself. The evaporating water will make you feel cool. (For fun, you can also spritz the water upwards and feel it fall down on you. The coldness can be quite shocking.)
  • Tie a wet bandanna around your neck (this is something I do for my dog to prevent overheating and heatstroke during the summer).
  • if you work for yourself and set your own schedule, you could take advantage of cooler temperatures to get work done at night as you might enjoy more clarity of mind and get more done without the heat.

What I’ve Learned From My Air Conditioning Breaking

  • I’ve been spoiled by having A/C these past few years.
  • A/C is a luxury.
  • A little deprivation is good for you because it makes you appreciate the most basic things in life such as a cold drink and the slightest breeze.
  • A warm breeze is better than none.
  • Sweating may be unpleasant but it doesn’t hurt you (it may even be good for you).

Does this mean we’re just going to go indefinitely without our air conditioning? No, of course not, because we will be needing it when next summer rolls around and we start getting 105°-112° temperatures again. We are human after all, and as we work at home, we do need to be able to have a certain degree of comfort in order to fully concentrate and function at full capacity in our work.

On a similar note, our heater also went out last winter and we spent most of the winter without it. Outside temperatures were often in the 20s and 30s, and inside was in the 50s and low 60s. It was also uncomfortable, but we came through none the worse (well, maybe a little fatter because we might have eaten more to stay warm).

We will be getting both the A/C and heater repaired some time this fall, but now we that we’ve been reminded of our ability to do without, we will hopefully start to see lower electric and gas bills in the months and years to come.

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8 thoughts on “The Benefits of Deprivation: 10 Days Without Air Conditioning and Counting! Plus Tips for Staying Cool”

  1. I applaud you for recognising a luxury, where others just take things for granted. Two years ago my heating packed in but I was too skint to get it fixed. We survived that winter and the next one with no central heating whatsoever. I was really surprised, but in reality all it meant was “layering up”; nothing too extreme.

    Once again – well done.

  2. We did this back in May, for an entire month. It was brutal toward the end as things heated up. We keep ours off of auto so that at night when it cools off, it doesn’t kick on.

  3. I went a month without a/c this summer for the very same reason. I also live in the desert and it was tough. I sure loved my electric bill though! One other tip that served me well was to put a small window unit in the room where I spend most of my time. I would turn it on for an hour or two around 5p, when all the heat of day was stored up in the house. It really helped make the situation a bit more bearable and used a lot less electricity than cooling the whole house. Luckily I discovered the problem with my a/c was in the thermostat. I replaced my old thermostat with a programmable one, which saved some money too!

  4. Interesting. Here in the low desert, I tend to think it’s not really hot till the outdoor temperature reaches 110. During the months when temperatures drop into the 80s or (yay!) 70s at night, you can usually leave the AC off until it gets to be around 100 degrees outdoors.

    Air conditioning contractors will tell you this makes your unit work harder because it has to run longer to cool the place down, thereby unnecessarily running up your bill, but I have found that this isn’t true. Or if the AC in fact does have to run a little longer at first, it’s not enough to override the savings you get from leaving the thing off until it starts to get uncomfortable in the house.

    I like the whole idea of using a window unit. My plan for next summer is to install one in the bedroom wall (the only window in there is a sliding door) and turn off the AC in the rest of the house at night. I suspect that setting the thermostat to turn on the central system just before dawn will keep from heat-saturating the house when nighttime temps are high.

    Another coping strategy, if you work at home: do as much of your work as you can early in the morning (I start at 5:00 a.m.) and then sleep through the hottest part of the day.

  5. Amen! I’ve been saying this for years, but there would always be some joker who thinks his house is closer to the equator or that his part of the country is just hotter and more humid than anywhere else. “Nope! Can’t be done here!” Sure buddy, you can pay the bill – I know better.

    We bought a house a year and a half ago that has no A/C. Granted we’re north of the continental divide, but people still think we’re nuts for not installing A/C and constantly look to solve this great problem that really isn’t so.


  6. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us! Yes, it is two years after you wrote this post, but I was sitting in my un-airconditioned house trying to make myself feel like there was some good in all this. After all, what did they do before electricity even in the desert! I am slowing down and taking it easy these hot days of summer and found that I am doing just what you advise, I’ll just have to try that bandanna trick.

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